It is rare to see three teammates in the top five but that is the case this season for the surprising Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. Heading into this weekend, Minnesota Duluth forwards Jack Connolly, Justin Fontaine and Rob Bordson sat tied for second, third and fourth, respectively, amongst the nation's best. The trio has helped the Bulldogs to a 9-4-1 (6-3-1, WCHA) start as they try to repeat last season's success, a WCHA tournament championship and trip to the West Regional finals, despite losing key players to graduation and early departures.
Connolly has built on a successful freshman season and has 10 goals and 11 assists heading into a huge two-game set with WCHA rival North Dakota. Fontaine, a junior, has 11 goals and 9 assists and probably and has been the biggest and most pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs. Bordson has 3 goals and 16 assists.
Bordson can be considered a surprise because after a freshman season that saw him amass only 1 goal and 7 points in 27 games, he hit a wall in his sophomore season. After going pointless in his first 15 games, Bordson sat in the press box as a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season.
But Bordson listened to his coaches' advice and hit the weight room hard and practiced religiously throughout the summer to prove he could play at this level and for coach Scott Sandelin. The hard work paid off and Bordson is now a key part of the team's power play and success overall.
"We knew he had the offensive ability to do the job," Sandelin told NHL.com. "He worked out over the summer to get stronger and gained a lot of confidence and it's benefited him."
According to Sandelin, size and confidence were major issues for Bordson in his first two seasons, and the coaching staff let him know that he must get bigger.
"I think when he first came here, he was kind of a frail figure, didn't spend a lot of time in the weight room and was more just a skilled player that needed to acclimate himself to this level physically and mentally," Sandelin said. "After his freshman year he put on a little weight last season but not enough. He played 15 games and didn't have a point. He kind of got passed by and I think this summer the light bulb went on. Not playing in the second half was a huge motivation for him. He got in there, added some weight and boosted his confidence.
"Now he's become the player we knew he could be and that's a player who makes big plays, provides an offensive game and scores goals. He has good puck skills. He has taken advantage of playing on the power play."
Fontaine hasn't really surprised Sandelin or anyone, but he has kept up the pace of his amazing 48-point freshman season.
"He's certainly very skilled, a shifty player that can score goals, and we knew what we had coming in after his breakout season but he deserves credit for keeping it up with more pressure on him," Sandelin said. "He's not an overly big guy but he has good speed, a real good head for the game and I think as coaches we try and push him to be even better. It's funny how kids mature and get better every year and I know that this year he was very motivated to go in have a better season than last year so that's good to see."
Connolly, despite not getting much power-play time last season, has become an integral component of the team's power play and leads the Bulldogs with 4 power-play goals.
"Last year, Jack didn't even play much on our power-play unit and I think that's the reason he didn't have as many points as one might have expected," Sandelin said. "He probably deserved to be on there, but we had other players there and I actually apologized to him that he wasn't on the No. 1 unit."
Sandelin had the chance to play with former NHL player Tony Hrkac at North Dakota. Hrkac had one of the best college hockey seasons ever with 116 points during the 1986-87 season and Sandelin gave Connolly some hefty praise comparing him to his former teammate.
"Jack is just a very gifted hockey player with great hand-eye coordination," Sandelin said. "He really actually reminded me of Tony Hrkac who I played with at North Dakota and watched play in the NHL. You know guys can hit him, but they never really get all of him but rather a little piece of him. He has great vision in traffic and passes the puck so well. I'm probably more surprised that he has ten goals because he is such a playmaker but that speaks to what a great player he is."
Connolly, Fontaine, Bordson and the Bulldogs host North Dakota for two games this weekend and Denver the following weekend.
On Campus clips -- After an 0-4 start to the season, Air Force goaltender Andrew Volkening has led the Falcons to the nation's third longest (active) unbeaten streak with a 4-0-3 record and was recently named Atlantic Conference Goaltender of the Month. … Andy Taranto of Alaska has been named the CCHA Rookie of the Month for November. Taranto leads the nation in rookie scoring with 18 points this season while his 1.29 points-per-game average ranks second. Taranto also leads all CCHA players with 15 points through 10 conference games. ... UNH senior forward Bobby Butler was named Hockey East player of the month for November. Butler registered a point in all seven games in the month and scored a goal in all but one game, racking up 13 points on 8 goals and 5 assists. Butler, who is tied as the nation's top goal scorer, had four multi-point games and two multi-goal efforts in the month. The only game Butler did not score a goal in the month was when he handed out a career-high three assists factoring in all three goals in a 3-3 tie at Boston University on Nov. 21.